Innlegg merkte med ‘book’

Two weeks ago I came over a new book by Robert Fisk, Britain’s well-known Middle East correspondent, called The Age of the Warrior – Selected Writings. The book is a selection of articles written by Fisk for the British newspaper The Independent. Most of the articles, with some exceptions, are written between 2005 and 2007. The articles are arranged according to theme rather than chronological.

Since most of the articles are written within such a short period of time makes it, combined with the length of the book (500 pages), slightly repetitive. Fisk repeats himself quite often, and even if it’s naturally due to the nature of his self-reflecting articles, it gets a bit boring when you read all of them at once. That Fisk does not like Tony Blair (frequently referred to as Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara), George W. Bush or the Internet gets a bit tiring to read about on every other page.

Despite some of the negative aspects of the book there are positive ones. Since I’ve only read a handful of Fisk’s articles before (two or three of them printed in this book), it is interesting to read more about Fisk’s different reflections on different things, everything from handwriting, Internet and modernity to journalism, death and destruction.

It is enjoyable to read Fisk’s articles, and they sometimes provide you with some interesting facts. For example that 20,000 Brazilian troops fought against the Axis Powers in the Italian campaign during the Second World War (454 of them died) and that many of the Titanic dead came for a Lebanese village called Kfar Mishki. Despite these fun facts the book, for obvious reasons, brings little or nothing new to the table. Most of what Fisk covers in these articles will be well-known for most people interested in the Middle East, both the stories and their different aspects.

This makes The Age of the Warrior an interesting read, but unfortunatly not a must-read. I have the feeling that Fisk’s articles are best served, and read, fresh. Most of Robert Fisk’s articles for The Independent can be found here.

One of the most interesting articles is the one from where Fisk got the title for his book, «The US military and its Cult of Cruelty.» In this article, called «Age of the Warrior» in the book, he talks about the change from «soldier» to «warrior» in the US Army based on a letter he recieved. The terms seem similar, but there are apparently some crucial differences according to Fisk. Read the article and notice the difference between the offical US Army’s «Soldier’s Creed» (drawn up after the Vietnam war) and it’s 2003 replacement, the socalled «Warrior Ethos»:

Soldier’s Creed:

«I am an American soldier. I am a member of the United States Army – a protector of the greatest nation on earth. Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation that it is sworn to guard … No matter what situation I am in, I will never do anything for pleasure, profit or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit or my country. I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions, disgraceful to themselves and the uniform. I am proud of my country and it’s flag. I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent for I am an American soldier.»

Warrior Ethos:

«I am an American soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the Unites States and live the Army values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American soldier.»

In Michael B. Oren’s newest book, Power, Faith and Fantasy – America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present, he quotes what Thomas Nicholson witnessed after he and 14 other American seamen had been enslaved by corsairs in the Mediterranean in February 1809. The corsairs had taken them back to Algiers where they had mistreated them badly and paraded them down the street and sold them as slaves at auction. Oren quotes Nicholsen’s description of what happened if anyone tried to escape:

After they had stripped the sufferer naked, they inserted the iron pointed stake into the lower termination of the vertebrae, and thence forced it up near his back bone, until it appeared between the shoulders, avoiding the vital parts. The stake was then raised in the air and the poor sufferer exposed to the view of other slaves, writhing in … insupportable agony.

Her ein dag kom eg over ei ny bok, Setting the Desert on Fire av James Barr, ein britisk historikar. Boka har undertittelen T. E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18 og er like mykje ei skildring av Lawrence som den er av den britiske kampanjen i Arabia. Lawrence spelar den største personrolla og Barr går grundig til verks for å skildre både personen Lawrence og kva han gjorde. Som ein liten bonus har Barr eit nyttig indeks over hovudpersonane i boka.

Barr skriv godt og med kapittel på 10-12 sider kvar kjem ein raskt gjennom boka. I byrjinga fekk eg kjensla av å lese ein spenningsroman grunna måten Barr skriv på. Barr nyttar dialogar i større grad enn andre historiske verk, og i tillegg er boka full av detaljar som Barr skildrar på ein måte som gjorde meg litt skeptisk. Barr nyttar nemleg ein del skjønnlitterære verkemiddel, i alle fall verkar det slik. Kjeldene han har nytta er likevel mykje private brev og dagbøker, og det er sannsynleg at han har skildringane frå desse. Den korte perioden boka dekkjer, dei personlege kjeldene og hendingane sjølv legg òg betre til rette for å nytte skjønnlitterære verkemiddel slik Barr har gjort utan at det går ut over den historiske analysa. Barr har òg gjort rom for nokre litt artige historier, som desse to:

Trying to help the Arabs regain the initiative, the British became unwittingly embroiled in the port’s [Jeddah] highly factional politics when Boyle invited a local tribal leader aboard the Fox to point out possible targets inside the town that he could shell. Boyle became suspicious when the man identified some unlikely-looking buildings. «Months after I heard that my picturesque sheikh was in reality a merchant of the town,» he later wrote, surmising that the man «had taken advantage of this opportunity to rid himself of trade rivals».

The French would force Feisal into exile in July the following year. The French general responsible is reputed to have gone to Saladin’s tomb in Damascus afterwards and announced: «Nous revoilà, Saladin» – Saladin, we’re back.

Shrine of Saladin

Shrine of Saladin

James Barr har, i alle fall slik bibliografien gjev uttrykk for, gått grundig gjennom britiske arkiv og har basert seg nesten utelukkande på britiske og engelskspråklege kjelder. Dette fører til at det største fokuset i boka er på britane og kva dei gjorde, men det er då òg meininga med boka. Det hadde derimot vore interessant å ha høyrd meir frå eit arabisk perspektiv.

Barr har, i tillegg til å rote grundig rundt i britiske arkiv, sjølv tatt turen til regionen for å følgje vegen det arabiske opprøret tok. Fleire stadar i boka stoggar Barr opp der det er relevant for å skildre eigne observasjonar av landskapet og situasjonen slik det er i dag. På si reise oppover Hijaz-jarnbane fann han mellom anna fleire lokomotiv som hadde vorte offer for miner og sabotasje frå britane og arabarane. Mange av lokomotiva ligg framleis i sanden der dei spora av, 90 år etterpå. Dette gjev eit spanande og nytt innsyn av konflikta og gjer den samstundes meir levande.

Etter å ha lese boka har eg fått endå meir lyst til å vitje stadane i Jordan der Lawrence var. Spesielt har eg lyst å vitje mellom anna ørkenfortet Azraq («blå» på arabisk), som ligg aust i Jordan. Lawrence nytta Qasr al-Azraq som ein base i krigen mot tyrkarane.

*James Barr har forresten ein ganske interessant blogg. Han har mellom anna lagt opp bilete frå reisa han gjennomførte i samband med boka si.